Encountering the Supernatural

A Phenomenological Account of Mind

in Religion and Society
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In this article we compare the encounter with the supernatural—experiences in which a person senses the immaterial—in Thailand and in the United States. These experiences appear to be shaped by different conceptions of the mind. In the US, there is a sharp, natural division between one's mind and the world; in Thailand, individuals have the moral responsibility to control their minds. These differences appear to explain how people identify and sense the supernatural. In the US, it is an external, responsive agent; in Thailand, it is an energy that escapes from an uncontrolled mind. Here we approach phenomenology—the experience of experience—comparatively, identifying patterns in social expectations that affect the ways in which humans think, feel, and sense. We take an experiential category of life that we know to be universal and use it to analyze cultural concepts that influence the enactment and interpretation of feeling and sensing.

Religion and Society

Advances in Research